28 February 2010

Relationship road trip

Had lunch with a friend on Friday. She’s the mother of twins, has 3 siblings and as nutty a family as you can imagine. Fair to say she has an excellent perspective on life, her own priorities and a healthy set of values that she desires to pass on to her children.

We talked about navigating relationships through tolerance and honesty. I admitted that even though that is my intent, I have been known to get stuck in my head. When that happens, what I’m thinking on the inside doesn’t match what I’m doing or saying on the outside. That, of course leads to all sorts of self-imposed conflicts.

Years ago, I came up with an analogy for relationships that I think is still a fair representation. My hypothesis was that relationships are like road trips. You have a vehicle, maybe 2, maybe a caravan if you’re bringing along a lot of stuff. You have some tools, perhaps a map, a compass, a flashlight; hopefully they’re in working order. Then you go.

Hopefully you both go the same direction if you’re in different vehicles. You might take different roads because one of you wants to take the freeway fast lane and the other wants to meander through the small towns along the way. Sometimes there’s a thunderstorm and the driving conditions are perilous. Sometimes there’s a traffic jam and you’re simply stuck for a long time inching along but making no progress. It’s frustrating. Sometimes you’re hopelessly lost or out nearly of gas, praying for a service station as you round the next corner. You’re frightened. Sometimes you’re not even sure why you’re driving in the direction you’re headed.

And then sometimes it’s just glorious. The day is sunny and you’re driving along together in the same car without the caravan of stuff and the breeze smells so sweet and you’re holding hands. And if you’re like me, you have your Barbie sunglasses on. And you both feel peaceful about where you’re headed.

Maybe the exact route isn’t entirely mapped out. But the direction feels right and you have trust, gratitude, faith and love.

The rest will work itself out. You might have to fix a broken radiator or flat tire along the way, but you know what? Everyone has to make those accommodations.

I’m happy now. And I once heard someone giving a presentation say “this too shall pass” when referring to her own happiness. But that’s OK. I think I know how to find this road again if I happen to veer off as a result of my own internal craziness. I have trust, gratitude, faith and love.

26 February 2010

Observing Go Texan Day

On the eve of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, the collective residents of greater Houston collaborate to celebrate the spirit of the rodeo by participating in Go Texan Day. Essentially, it’s an excuse to wear jeans, boots, hats and big belt buckles to work. Or for the ladies, western romance. My quickly pulled together Go Texan ensemble for the day includes boots, long knit skirt, crisp white cotton blouse with boning (for that touch of romance) tortoiseshell (faux, of course) earrings, soft scarf tied kerchief style, and casual updo. Tada! Instantly transported to a gracious ranch dripping with old-style Texas charm.

The HLSR is the largest rodeo in the world. The festivities will begin with a parade, celebrating the arrival of the trail riders that hailed from destinations near and far beyond the Houston borders. Other notable highlights, besides the drama and excitement of the livestock events and rodeo competition itself, include the carnival, barbeque cookoff, art contests, and a spectacular wine tasting event.

So, everybody wang-chung, I mean, Go Texan!

23 February 2010

On a mission

One of the few times I watched Jon & Kate + 8, a topic on that broadcast, discussed somewhat incidentally, was the fact that this family had created a mission statement.

[Note to self: please refrain from indulging in judgmental thoughts about the probable level of family collaboration involved in creating the aforementioned mission statement.]

I was impressed during the broadcast at the concept of actually taking the trouble to formulate and verbalize a family mission statement and I decided to do a little research with my best friend, google. What I learned was not surprising. A number of family therapists cited in the search results recommend that couples (my research was limited to couples since I’m not a mom) not only participate in the exercise of creating a mission statement, but also define the values that guide your lives, both as individuals and as a couple.

I love methodology and in one of my previous volunteer assignments, led a few organizations through strategy building workshops similar to this. The participants begin with some trepidation, but quickly gain confidence and make rapid progress. It always sounds more difficult than it really is.

Anyway, Cristy and I took the time last year to explore our values in life areas such as faith, social pursuits, daily home-life, financial management, holiday and family celebrations, professional-career pursuits, etc. I think we defined 10 or 12 general categories. The values we verbalized were those beliefs we held about who we were as individuals in the distinct life areas and how we each felt we needed to participate as a couple in order to feel whole, validated and cherished.

Not all of our opinions were aligned, but we tried to negotiate through some ideas about behavior that would meet some important needs for us both.

It was useful. Performing that exercise together made us feel as though we had established a broad set of basic agreements for the way that we would interact in these areas of our lives. Because we had made agreements, a large degree of ambiguity about who we were as a couple evaporated. It was as if we had completed a private rehearsal of sorts. While I cannot predict the future, I feel my chances of being blindsided by something unexpected that conflicts with one of my core living values, is greatly diminished.

Nothing is guaranteed. Disasters can happen, garbage disposals can erupt, as ours did this week. We only hope that the practice of finding common ground around the values that are the most important guiding principles of our lives will help us combine our strengths in times of stress, sorrow or sickness. The practice of negotiating behaviors in advance will help us feel empowered to ask for the supportive behavior that we need from the other to offer that extra support when we’re not quite feeling whole. The practice of exploring and envisioning will open our minds to the possibilities that exist for enriching our own lives as well as the lives of others with whom we interact.

All things considered, I’d have to say that Jon & Kate, or at least the producers of Jon & Kate, set a very good example for which I am truly grateful.

22 February 2010

RTT - the early edition

Robins arrived in Houston today. I look forward to them each year and they arrive reliably on schedule, about 4 weeks before the official start of spring. They will be here for a couple of weeks before heading a bit further north to chase the edge of the ground temperature change. Of course, I’m just making this up because I am not an ornithologist. But it could be correct.


I stumbled onto a new blog yesterday and the author listed ten things that she learned last weekend. If you think about it, we learn things all the time. So I stopped for a moment or two to consider what I learned last weekend. I did not undertake any particularly studious endeavors, so the things I learned were rather ordinary. But useful, nonetheless. At the top of the list is that fact that when you bake with whole wheat flour, the baked product tastes different. Previously, I had believed that you could bake with whole wheat flour but wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. I was wrong. The banana bread coffee cake I made with whole wheat flour is still good, but in a healthy-good sort of way. Not a yummy delicious treat sort of way.

Unfortunately, I purchased a standard size bag of whole wheat flour, so there is plenty remaining for future baking projects. And since I am frugal-girl, completely unlikely to discard a perfectly good bag of flour, there are plenty of whole-wheat baked items in my immediate future.

Chick flick

I’m a chick flick sort of girl. I like movies where the central themes are about building human relationships and making peace with yourself. If the characters are somewhat fashion minded with great shoes and accessories, that’s a big plus. I like intelligent dialog, sweet sentimentality and a good, old-fashioned Hollywood happy ending (sniffle, sniffle).

After all, with the price of movies these days ($19 for two tickets before 5pm thank you very much and $5 for a small popcorn) I don’t need to add an artificial layer of stress to my current existence. I don’t want anxiety, loud bangs, aggressive personalities or dark suspense. I’d be emotionally wiped out by the time the movie is over.

So, dear filmmakers, I realize I might be among a rapidly declining demographic, but please keep making chick movies. Thank you.

21 February 2010

Finding a metaphor in the mundane

The correct tool for the job turned out to be steel wool. Worked like a charm. Scrubbing that burned-on residue from the bottom of the soup kettle was relatively quick work once I got the steel wool engaged.

Yesterday I made corn chowder and started by boiling pearled barley with some onion and celery. Barley gives the soup texture and makes it taste chowdery. But in my poorly managed multi-tasking frame of mind, I neglected to keep watch on the barley and consequently the water boiled out too quickly leaving the starchy grain to burn. And stick to the bottom of the kettle.

After discarding the contents, I tried an old remedy that has always proved successful for me in the past – boiling soapy water in the kettle. I think I read it years ago in a newspaper column. Probably Hints from Heloise.

But it didn’t work. Usually that technique makes the job of cleaning so much easier. No scrubbing even required. Not this time.

So this morning, as I was physically scrubbing the pan with my steel wool, I found my brain casting about searching for someone, something to accept the blame for the situation I was in. I landed on Heloise. Damn that tips column. Load of baloney!

Then the scrubbing was over and I almost had to laugh. So ridiculous that I would be trying to escape responsibility for something so insignificant, a minor inconvenience. But I was. Yeah, I’m human. Give my idiot card a punch.

Coincidentally, this is precisely the topic that one of my favorite bloggers recently presented in a very humorous way. Karal, at the orange chair. Check it out.

19 February 2010

On forgiveness

I read an essay by Kristen over at Motherese about forgiveness and it has been occupying a space in my consciousness ever since. Her blog has a way of doing that.

"…to forgive is divine."

I am trying to come to terms with the way I process through forgiveness and take inventory of the associated judgmental feelings stored in my bank of memories. For me, forgiveness is a pivotal closure event in acknowledging a complete set of circumstances around a sorrowful event or moment in time. Forgiveness allows me to assemble that sorrow, place it in a box, close the lid and offer it to my Higher Power. In exchange, I ask for peace. The peace I receive washes away my hurt and helps me regain my sense of wholeness. The sorrowful event may have been substantial and the whole person that I am on the other side may be different than the person I was before.

That is to be expected, is it not?

But how much judgment am I carrying with me as a consequence of the experience?

About three years ago I met a woman who was a recovering alcoholic. I have known more than one alcoholic in my life and I am familiar with the whirling vortex of drama that often goes hand-in-hand with these personalities. However, I was drawn to her personality and we became friends. We socialized and assembled a small circle of friends. Her recovery was difficult and she drank from time to time. The effects of her alcoholic binges were never productive. She was ashamed and told lies to cover up the truth.

And then I had a little Christmas holiday party at my home. I invited a few friends and it was a relatively quiet gathering. Food, drink and conversation. She arrived, already inebriated and proceeded to indulge more. She became emotional, hijacked the thread of the party’s general conversation, and her behavior made me very uncomfortable.

She apologized the next day by sending a text message, or maybe an email. In my heart I forgave her and I know that I communicated this to her through email.

But my judgment about her changed. I mentally formulated a boundary regarding the kind of relationship that I was willing to participate in with her going forward, as a pure consequence of my collective range of experience with her. Our friendship cooled. Over the next year, we continued to talk from time to time and exchange email, but only saw each other once, for lunch. While she made numerous vague suggestions that we make plans to socialize further, I did not feel compelled to encourage the suggestions into anything more concrete.

It is possible that over the past twelve months she has taken some strides forward in her recovery and is a much more responsible person. My opinion, informed by my judgment, has not had an opportunity to evolve due to the far more casual way in which we currently interact. Consequently, there is a chance that my opinion is no longer valid.

But I do not know. I have not received enough information to make a revision.

C’est la vie.

I forgave her for the behavior that I considered to be inappropriate, within the construct of our friendship and I harbor no ill will toward her now. I placed the lid securely on that box. I am at peace.

But on the other side of that forgiveness, I changed.

18 February 2010

Tricks of the trade

A busy week of juggling flaming knives, and assembling a mountain of data into a visually appealing format, palatable for the average consumer.

This part of my job makes me think of myself as a sleight-of-hand artist. Figuring out how to disguise information into a candy-coated morsel so that meeting participants will gobble it up rather than glazing over and looking at it in utter disgust.

That’s how it usually is with purveyors of numbers. Dry reports. An endless list of numerals that only someone like myself could find remotely appealing.

Maybe, in some respects, this part of my job is sort of like being a parent and getting kids to eat vegetables in a loving and creative way. Mixing them in with something they already like, maybe macaroni and cheese or pizza.

It works with my dogs.

Oh, but wait, my dogs will eat anything. So no, not really

16 February 2010


Winter Olympics are both dazzling and puzzling. Those downhill skiers are some athletes. They go faster and I could ever imagine and they make it look easy. The resort villages hosting the events look absolutely enchanting. But I need to understand more about this sport known as curling. I’m sure one of the commentators will provide the background information I am seeking to explain why it is an Olympic event. For now, it simply puzzles me.

And then there’s Bob Costas’ shirt. Seriously, I think I’m tripping. Tiny little stripes two nights in a row. Doesn’t translate well on television. Looks like an optical illusion.

The final rounds of the Westminster Kennel Club dog show was broadcast last night, first night of a two-night event. I love WKC, primarily because of the good basic facts they provide when introducing each breed of dog. The origin of the breed, the dog’s level of energy and temperament as a member of a human family.

But one of the play-by-play broadcasters continues to refer to the competition as a “sport.” Now this is puzzling to me too. The Olympics definitely fall into the sports category. But the dog show? Not so much. The closest thing I can come up with would be a pageant. And I mean that in a good way, sort of like a scholarship competition.

I’ll be tuning in again tonight to see Best in Show and check out Bob Costas’ wardrobe selection.

15 February 2010

Bonds of love

I don’t remember the last time I spent an evening out on the two teen-aged boys. Probably because I’ve never done it before. Cristy’s nephews, and really, mine too. One 18 and one 17. We drove downtown, laughed, acted silly, took dozens of photographs, mingled with the other patrons, and surprisingly, as the evening was winding down, had a rather serious adult conversation. I didn’t see it coming.

I don’t know if it matters so much, the precise words spoken. The fact that they were spoken is merely a reminder that at this juncture of their lives, on the cusp of branching out into another direction, that their loving family is there to cheer them onward. And we will be there too, if the choices in the adult world seem overwhelming and they want to talk through their options. Or even just find a place of refuge for an hour or two.

I don’t know what will unfold for either of them in the next year and I am not clear whether they, themselves, have envisioned their own futures.

We will be here to witness their accomplishments and trials and to remind them that we love them through each step of their journey.

11 February 2010

Battle with love

When I was a little girl, 6 years old, I thought I was fat. One of my school classmates said it out loud, so I thought it was true. I was ashamed. It never occurred to me that she was wrong. When I look back at school class pictures now, I looked the same as all the other children, but the damage was done. Something changed at that precise moment with the way I felt about myself.

In my teen and young adult years, I wanted badly to have a boyfriend, but I never really did. I did not understand the intricacy of getting to know someone and letting them get to know you. I thought the love dance was merely superficial: labeling the status of a relationship, going out to parties as a couple, acting like you were in love. But I didn’t understand what it felt like to be loved or to extend love. And I strongly suspect this was a result, in part, of the many years of self-loathing that began in the first grade.

This blog is a diary and the thoughts and feelings are my own. It has never been anyone else’s responsibility to make me feel one way or another. There is no blaming or no credit to be assigned out. For most of my life, until recently, there has been a barrier between me and love. I hated love and I grieved over love. It was a battle.

I was able to verbalize it to a therapist a few years ago. Shortly after my marriage ended and I discovered that my life was, in fact going to continue, I realized in order to live it effectively, I’d probably need to solicit some help. Enter the therapist. She asked what I wanted from a love relationship. To my surprise, I was able to answer succinctly: I want to participate in a love relationship where I feel cherished.

That was my first victory in this lifelong battle with love: naming both the obstacle and the desired set of circumstances. My therapist said that was a realistic expectation. Seemed so to me too.

However, in my experience, feeling cherished was not high on that list of feelings with which I identified. More commonly, they would include things like compromised, diminished, marginalized, disappointed. Again, understanding completely that I am solely responsible for my feelings, it is all about my choices and they way I elected to participate in relationships. Relationships with my parents, with myself, with love interests.

Then Cupid flew by my house one night and sprinkled love dust in the air. I awoke the next morning knowing my heart would reopen. And it did. And then it broke again because I fell into an old pattern of behavior. But I saw it and understood. Finally. It was my second victory in my battle with love. That most painful awareness where I stopped applying scotch tape to the gaping wound in my chest. I looked at that wound, ugly as it was, and then tended to it.

Cupid came along again, as he does, and sprinkled more love dust in my direction. I am so fortunate that Cupid led me to my valentine, the love of my life, this place where I feel cherished. It is true, what they say. I had to assign value to myself in order to feel cherished by the person who loves me. And she does. And I can feel it. And it is the sweetest thing I can imagine.

I love you.

10 February 2010

Equal time

On the flip-side of the real-life customer service experience, it is only right to describe the good, since yesterday was all about the not-so-good. And by good, I mean, delightfully and surprisingly wonderful.

I am inspired by a woman named Carolyn who was a former colleague and friend. Unfortunately we lost touch many years ago, but I have always remembered her stories. She was an astute manager and adhered to several effective techniques for managing her staff in a productive way. One of her techniques focused on dedicating more time to communicating about good things than bad. Some members of her team had a tendency to walk into her office with complaints. While she wanted to offer an ear to true problems, she did not want to create an open-door policy for idly airing grievances. One of her policies was that the person sitting across her desk could verbalize a negative observation about the workplace only after giving two positive observations.

So here is my equal airtime, ala Carolyn’s method. I just reversed the order.

First place goes to CVS. Their automated customer service line gives me a call approximately 10 days before my prescription runs out and by pressing a few buttons on my telephone keypad, I’ve just submitted an easy-easy refill request. I am the type of person that forgets to call until I’m out of medicine, so this proactive customer service benefit is astonishingly simple, but truly appreciated! I don’t even mind that it’s an automated system calling and not a human.

Second place goes to the friendly staff members at BBVA-Compass Bank and Amegy Bank. They must have some sort of banking competition going on, because I noticed after recent visits to both (in the lobby) that a staff member of each bank made it a point to offer a personal, cheerful greeting, complete with eye contact and a genuine smile. It was such a nice feeling and I will probably make it a point to go inside the bank next time I’m there rather than the drive-through.

09 February 2010

Real life reality - the customer experience episode

There is a cost associated with providing customer service. To stay in business, companies load those costs into the price of the items they sell. To remain profitable, they have to keep operational costs as low as possible. For some companies that have slender profit margins, revving up the volume on customer service is not in the cards. Processes are streamlined and automated. So when problems occur, their customers find that they share a portion of the burden of sorting things out.

Here’s an example, from a recent episode in our own real-life reality series. (who needs television when you've got real life to keep things exciting?)

We purchased a product from an online consumer electronics outfit in early January. We had been watching the price points carefully and selected an optimally priced item, actually an exceptional value. A week or so later we received an email giving us the contact information for the retailer’s delivery services vendor so we could call and coordinate delivery with that firm directly.

Cristy called and selected a delivery date. We have both received a number of shipments to our personal residences through the years, and in our collective experience, freight companies contact the recipient with an estimated delivery window, say a 2-to-4 hour window, so the recipient will actually be at the premises when the shipment arrives. Given this experience, Cristy anticipated that the shipper would call in advance to give her an approximate time, but they did not. They just arrived at the house. Someone was (thankfully) at our house that day and received the product in our stead. It was in a large, bulky box and the delivery person did not have a dolly; they both carried it into the house. But we were dismayed when we arrived home to discover it was the wrong product. And not just a little bit wrong, but really wrong. It was way, way more expensive than the item we purchased.

Cristy called the next day to sort it out. The online retailer had no idea how this mistake might have occurred; they were shocked. Their plan to remedy the situation was to dispatch the delivery company back to our house to retrieve the product and when it had been returned, they would ship the item we ordered.

The next week, we were back on the delivery vendor’s schedule for the pickup. It was one guy, again without a dolly. He did not know what he was supposed to get or who he was supposed to invoice. He man-handled the box out to the truck by himself and drove off without securing the box inside the back of the truck. Cristy watched in complete disbelief, certain that the product would fall over and break as soon as he turned the first corner. Then as if to heighten the drama, she noticed that the strapping around the box had badly cut into our wood floors. The driver had pushed the box directly across the floor without covering it first. Nice.

She called the online retailer again, to notify them of both the damage to our property by their vendor and the incredibly high possibility that the product would be returned to them damaged because of the freight company’s failure to properly secure the cargo within their vehicle. The online retailer suggested that we initiate a discussion with the freight service company to pursue a remedy for the floor scratching.

Over the next couple of weeks, Cristy spoke to no fewer than 5 people at that freight company about the incident. None of them had any idea what to do. It was as if this was the first time in the company’s history that an incident of this sort had occurred. Completely frustrating (for us). Someone finally gave her the telephone number of an insurance company to file a claim. OK.

In the meantime, we received an invoice from the freight company since they had to make a second trip to our house to retrieve the equipment mistakenly delivered. I attempted to resolve that with an email to the online retailer’s customer service group, but it appears that “online customer service” is not actually staffed by humans. All replies appeared to be computer generated and were not oriented toward solving problems. Cristy called someone at the customer service center and received agreement that they would handle the mistaken invoice.

About the same time, our originally ordered product was approaching; we received word that we could again call the freight company to arrange delivery. Cristy called and selected a day, but the day came and went without a call to her. She called again and they said they would get to it the next day. On my way home the following day, Cristy told me that the delivery truck was en route to our house. Thankfully she had called to check, because again, they failed to contact her. They arrived shortly after I got home.

The very nice delivery man informed me that he had instructions not to enter our house, so he would leave the product either in the garage or outside on the front porch. I opted for the front porch. The product was strapped to a small pallet and he moved it from the truck to our porch by see-sawing it back and forth on the corners of the pallet. He opened the packaging to confirm that the product was intact. I signed the receipt form and he left. When Cristy arrived, we carried the item indoors and disposed of the packaging ourselves (except for the pallet – waiting for heavy trash day).

At the end of the episode, we received what we ordered and the online retailer offered us a small cash rebate. We have a badly scratched floor for which we need to buy a rug, the cost of which will not be covered by the cash rebate. And we still need to begin a conversation with the freight company’s insurance carrier to pursue a possible reimbursement for the floor repairs.

As retailers shift their business models to strictly online customer interaction, the cost of doing business also shifts to the consumers. The two companies in question? CircuitCity.com and YRC, Inc. Buyer beware.

08 February 2010

RTT - the early edition

I didn’t watch football last weekend. Sounds pretty un-American. I just don’t much like football and I’m finding that the older I get, the less I enjoy watching television in general. So the chances that you’ll catch me watching something on television that I don’t particularly like anyway are pretty darn remote. But still, my hat’s off to all professional football players, I admire their fortitude, athletic skill and sheer strength. And congratulations NO Saints – great game, great season!


I went out for dinner with some friends last Saturday night, had two absolutely delicious French pear martinis during dinner. They knocked me on my very own butt. Didn’t even feel it coming. Not the outcome I would have selected for that evening, needless to say. Ix-nay on the artinis-may for moi, at least for the foreseeable future.


I was driving home one evening last week behind a regional freight truck with the corporate slogan painted in a very stylish script along the rear panel of the truck. It said: Service Unexcelled. I kept looking at it trying to figure out what that actually meant. I even looked up the word ‘unexcelled’ in an online dictionary. Of course, the language is absolutely correct, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t just the tiniest bit awkward. Perhaps I need to chalk up the string of double negatives in the preceding sentence on that awkward list too, come to think of it.

Happy Tuesday.


05 February 2010

Walking it out

Growing older is serious business, for humans and our beloved canine companions. Dogs have aging symptoms that resemble some of the ailments people suffer: chronic aches and pains, arthritis, vision problems, bladder control issues, joint stiffness, changes in appetite. I have two older dogs, ages 14 years and 9 years (I think). Between the two, they hit every symptom on this list. The older guy really does suffer from painful arthritis and takes prescription meds twice per day to regulate it to a tolerable level. But sometimes it flares up and he is just plain uncomfortable. So much so that he can’t bear to keep still, so he just paces around. There doesn’t seem to be anything I can do to help.

When my mom visited us at Thanksgiving, she noticed it and said: I know how he feels. Sometimes you just have to walk it out.

Recently I decided to put this observation into practice. The last two times that my old guy had a flare-up, I gave him an extra dose of medicine, but that didn’t seem to work. He kept coming over to me, asking for comfort. So I decided to walk it out with him. We walked through the house, room to room, on a circuitous route until he got tired and stopped. Then he was able to lie down and rest. Finally.

Me too. Finally.

04 February 2010

Share the love

Many years ago I read something in the Ann Landers column about her participation in Valentines for Vets, a program that distributes valentine cards to patients in VA hospitals across the country. Apparently any kind of valentine was appreciated. I thought it sounded like a worthwhile effort and decided to give it a whirl with homemade valentines.

Perhaps I was remembering fondly the homemade Valentine’s Day boxes my mom helped me make for school, or some other homemade valentine lovely crafted from red paper, doilies and pink sugar hearts. The project of making the valentine was all about love and sharing that time with my mom.

I think I made about 12 valentines for the vets that year. Large format red paper with a white crepe ruffled edge, glitter painted greeting on the front and a hand-written note inside. The fact that I remember these valentines so clearly is significant proof that I loved that project, creating the pretty cards. I don’t remember anything else about Valentine’s Day that year, but I remember making those homemade cards and mailing them off to their destination.

So this year I think I am going to resurrect my creativity and assemble a few pretty valentine greetings, using the supplies I have at my disposal at home: ribbon, buttons, paper, elmer’s glue, pencil, fabric remnants, needle & thread. Surely the results of my efforts will be at least as good as any Valentine card I might find at the Hallmark store. But the big plus, is that it will again connect me to those precious valentines memories, expressing love through simple creative expression.

Every silver lining has a grey cloud

I attended a personal relationship workshop once and one of the topics addressed resolving conflicts productively. It is such a happy set of circumstances that I sometimes recall these bits of minutiae from years ago because it gives me pause to consider how to process circumstances that trouble me now. As I have gotten older, I’m more at peace with taking my time around suboptimal circumstances. There’s always more to the picture than my view permits, but often, even within my view, there are probably things I don’t see because I fail to look closely enough. Taking extra time helps me focus more clearly.

Often, when faced with a conflict, I am tempted to focus largely on the perceived failings of the other individual in the conflict: the things that they are neglecting to do or say, the things that are inaccurate, unrelated, perhaps even fictitious. I am likely to take personal offense, and unfortunately, adopt a slightly (dare I say it?) rigid attitude as a result. My skills of perception start to shut down as the flashing-red-light-buzzer begins sounding in my head, a warning that conflict is approaching.

Back to the workshop. The relevant lesson is: how many of the perceived failings, of which I am quick to assign to the other party, are also true about me? Probably more than I care to admit.

I’m having a bit of a conflict with my boss at the moment. Actually not so much of a conflict as a falling-out. We are communicating less and less. She is busy-busy-busy. I perceive that her lack of attention to my work indicates that its importance has diminished in her opinion, and even worse, in the opinion of the rest of the organization. She praises the quality of my work but doesn’t read it, doesn’t provide the substantive feedback and direction that I need to make progress in this highly conceptual task.

I am having a difficult time seeing the larger picture since my inclination is to focus on my perceptions of her negligent management skills, where my personal job is concerned. Because, naturally, it's all about me, right?

Is her busy-busy-busy schedule affecting the other staff members that report to her? Well, yes.

Is there anything about my behavior that might be contributing to the circumstances? Well, maybe.

Is there anything that I could be doing that could possibly lead to improvements? Well, probably.

But I don’t know exactly what. Yet. I need to go back and reflect on that question from the workshop.

03 February 2010

Integrating the past with the present

Before I moved last year the gigantic task of packing my belongings loomed vaguely in the path ahead. As I started tackling that activity, the task loomed even larger; it seemed to block out the sun. I found things I had forgotten from years before stashed away in little pockets of my tiny universe. I threw things away that should have been thrown away years before. I boxed and bagged and lifted and carried. Several times – it was a multi-stage process.

Along the way I decided that the things I took with me to my new residence should have a useful place in my home and in my life. I would prefer not to stow these things away again, unseen, for another 20 years; that just doesn’t make much sense.

So far, so good. The most obvious items of furniture found a home first, that was the first layer of things settled into the house. The second layer was the contents of closets, pantries and drawers – utility items that we would need to access on a regular basis. The third layer was largely visually decorative. Books, pottery, seashells, vases, photos, a collection of items that by themselves, are not necessarily beautiful, but together, form an appealing backdrop for our rooms.

But still, some straggling things remain. Two weeks ago I opened one of the bags that I had placed temporarily at the bottom of a closet and decided to filter through these things and bring them into my daily existence. They were things that belonged to my late father. His college degree, professional engineering certificate, numerous awards, interesting artifacts, memorabilia. Three of the items were already framed, so I hung them immediately and then purchased a few more inexpensive document frames for some of the other honorary certificates.

And today, the box arrived with the sturdy new frames and their crisp white mats. My father was an humble man and did not find much reason to rejoice in his accomplishments. He rejoiced in designing an innovative solution to address the problem at hand. But now, all that remains are the artifacts that point to these successes.

So a portion of these artifacts from his life are now living anew in my home. And I continue to make my way through the stragglers little by little, calling upon imagination, love and inspiration as a guide.

02 February 2010

Living from scratch

I read a very inspired essay by Anne at life in pencil the other day all about the concept of living from scratch. In other words, starting anew, paving a new path in any part of our lives. And oddly, my father’s voice appears in my head when reflecting on this idea: the words inertia and trajectory. He was a scientist and his work dealt largely with mechanical physics. But these two familiar subjects of physics apply to our lives, perhaps in more ways than we care to admit.

Inertia tells us that an object will continue to move along its current path unless acted upon by an external force. A human-life example of inertia is the person who remains in an unloving relationship without taking proactive steps to make a change for the better. Or a person who has an unfulfilling job but makes no attempt to change the situation. A couple of less obvious examples might be the person who does make an attempt at change, but upon meeting the first obstacle, decides that change is impossible and accepts inertia as inevitable, or the person who selects a change strategy that turns out to be an unsuccessful approach at achieving the desired change, but continues to make the same unsuccessful attempt time after time.

How many of us have fallen under the spell of inertia?

The term trajectory refers to the direction of the new path of an object once a force has been applied to initiate movement. In mechanical physics, we have to compensate for the effect of gravity in order for our object to reach its targeted destination. In life, we have to compensate for other unquantifiable factors, if we hope to succeed in our quest to make progress along a new path. These factors are things like the seductive comforts of our old habits and the voices of fear and shame that play inside our heads.

Creating change in our lives requires some amount of fortitude, perseverance and vision. We need to be able to visualize that the difference we are seeking will prove beneficial and hopefully, increase our level of happiness.

How many of us have stumbled along a new path because we were ill prepared to expend the energy needed to compensate for the unforeseen roadblocks to our visualized success?

I am personally able to check both of these boxes. Time and again I can recall complaining about some circumstance in my life that caused me dissatisfaction, but I made excuses to myself to justify living with the inertia. Or opened the door to a new relationship without acknowledging the need to clean up my behavioral mistakes from the past.

Change is work. It is not as simple as deciding. In physics, there is a formula for computing work, a function of force and distance. In my own life, change has been successful through humility, gratitude, imagination, forgiveness and perseverance over a span of time. The force applied, in this case is not physical at all. A difficult lesson to grasp.

I don’t know if my dad ever thought about physics in these terms, but I am finding comfort in deriving abstract life lessons from the concrete principles he applied in his life’s work.

01 February 2010

Science of the survey

I participated in an employee survey today. Advance notice encouraging my participation arrived in my email inbox last week. And I received another reminder on the daily Employee News link too. So I went ahead and opened the link first thing this morning with the best intentions of contributing to the collective knowledge that is our institutional workforce, at least, in terms of this survey.

Truth is, I’m more than a bit dubious about surveys. Most surveys provide an answer array to allow respondents to shade their answers from middle-of-the-road, to extreme. I tend to be a middle-of-the-road girl, regardless of the relative width of the survey’s answer array. I figure that even if I had a single isolated negative experience pertaining to a certain question, I’ve also had at least one good experience, so in the end, it pretty much all averages out. But some people like to click the extreme buttons. So I am not sure how the answers are compiled in a way that recognizes and accommodates the variations in the answering style of the respondents. I can't help wondering about things like this.

I’m also curious about what the survey is attempting to accomplish. I know there is a method to survey design such that the assembled responses boil down to a set of basic feedback indicators. If the indicator is below expectations, then the framework of the survey will also isolate the offending problem area. The science of survey building is as mysterious as it is interesting, at least from my own perspective.

Today’s survey seemed to be about employee satisfaction and retention. Half the questions seemed to be lifted from the standard employee satisfaction survey menu, but the other half were new. They came from the exotic Dim Sum style menu of hypothetical HR benefits, programs and compensation packages. More than a little complex and more than a little tiresome to wade through. This was, after all, purely hypothetical. I found myself clicking, clicking, clicking, wondering if I had stumbled into an endless survey loop or if they were merely trick questions.

Then, just like that, it was over. Until next year.

High school musical

It was a relatively quiet weekend. It began last Friday; the opening night of Cristy’s nephew’s high school performance of The Music Man.

In an unspoken sense, attendance is mandatory at most functions where an audience assembles in the school auditorium, unless we have a very good excuse. So this was not the first trip to the high school to witness the collective dramatic and musical talent of the student body.

During one of the previous performances, we were squirming in our seats, longing for the concluding selection. I remember hearing a baby start to whimper somewhere in the audience. Then the sound of that whimpering retreating as the parent carried his or her child out of the theater. It seemed like a golden opportunity, the answer to our quandry. I remember whispering to Cristy: if you just start crying, I could escort you out… She lowered her head in muffled laughter.

I think that audiences attend student performances in order to see their own children. We see them on stage and notice, from afar, their grown-up appearance, their poise and the results of many, many hours of rehearsal. We hear their strong singing voices and marvel at their dancing ability. But still, it is tedious. We are transported back to our own experiences with school musical productions. I wonder what it was like for my parents and all of the other audience members to suffer through those performances with smiles on their faces.

The final scene arrived, there was applause and cheering, then the students appeared and there were hugs and congratulations. Then it was over and the students were off to Denny’s to celebrate over pie and coffee. And we went home, reminding ourselves this will be our last year for attending school performances.